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Julian Shrago of Beachwood BBQ & Brewing
Co-founder and brewmaster, Beachwood BBQ & Brewing
Julian Shrago started kicking the tires on a brewery business plan nearly five years ago, when he was looking to get away from his day job. Today, he’s still working a day job. But he’s also in the brewhouse on nights and weekends, churning out creative takes on American and Belgian styles for Long Beach, Calif., brewers Beachwood BBQ & Brewing. It’s a long way from the stovetop he started on. “Owning a business is new to me, and there’s a lot of pressure,” he says. “But it’s been a lot of fun. That responsibility is what lets you maintain creative freedom.”
1. Sure beats fruitcake
Shrago’s parents got him his first homebrew kit while he was home from college on winter break. A couple of his classmates made beer at home; he mentioned this to his parents, who ran over to a homebrew shop in Berkeley. But for years, he only brewed off and on in school, when he was home on break. It wasn’t until he moved to Long Beach in 2004, bought a place with room to spread his equipment out in, and hooked up with the Long Beach Homebrewers club, that he started brewing regularly. And when he did, he didn’t look back.
2. Marry art and science
Shrago went to school for engineering, and still works in the field for his nine-to-five job. He says there’s a strong link between the way he works his office job and the way he brews. “The best engineering is a marriage between art and science,” he argues. “It’s that way with cooking, and with architecture, and with brewing. Really good brewing starts with good artistic concepts, but it’s science that gets you across the finish line—being able to repeat your process, making sure everything’s done right.”
3. Nag away
The Long Beach Homebrewers helped Shrago tighten up his recipes and his techniques, and the pros at Port Brewing and Triple Rock helped him jump to the next level. “I was that nagging guy who brought in his homebrews and forced them upon people,” he says. He began coming in to watch brew sessions, and eventually, he got invited to brew on the breweries’ big systems; Panzer, one of Pizza Port’s most popular summer seasonals, is Shrago’s recipe. “It was awesome to have access to people like that,” he says. “They could’ve picked anybody to brew at their pubs. It’ll always be an honor, and they continue to be helpful to me.”
4. Do what you do best
When Shrago began planning to start brewing professionally, he was running the numbers on a production facility. That changed when he started talking with his friends, Gabe and Lena Gordon, owners of the Seal Beach beer bar Beachwood BBQ. Shrago was about to move forward on plans to open a brewery, and the Gordons were looking to expand—they had enjoyed the beers Shrago brewed with Pizza Port, and so the three decided to go into business together, spinning off Beachwood’s expansion as a brewpub. Opening a pub with restaurant industry veterans greatly simplified logistics on Shrago’s end, and allowed him to focus on the creative side of the business, which is the part that hooked him in the first place.
5. Do it on purpose
“We try to push the limits, tastefully, without being unnecessarily extreme,” Shrago says. Avoiding the “unnecessarily extreme” doesn’t mean shying away from big beers and bold flavors. It does, however, mean that every ingredient has to have a purpose. He loves intense hop flavors, “but I won’t make a 12 percent [ABV] IPA just for the sake of making a really alcoholic beer.” Shrago likes to start recipes by thinking in flavor combinations, not target measurements. Every component of a recipe has to make the overall beer better; otherwise, it doesn’t belong in the kettle.
6. Let your hops shine
Beachwood Brewing always has at least one IPA on tap. Shrago rotates through different incarnations of the style, but they all share a few common attributes. He makes a conscious effort not to blow out his customers’ palates. He uses first wort hopping, and he often dry hops his IPAs twice. In true West Coast fashion, he uses caramel malts sparingly. Melrose IPA, a recipe that dates back to Shrago’s homebrewing days, piles Simcoe and Amarillo hops on top of Canadian honey malt, which draws out the hops’ tropical flavors. One recent recipe, The Dominator, was a challenge to show that the modern hophead’s palate could be satisfied with an old-school ingredient bill. The recipe combined Galena, Centennial and Columbus with pinches of Carapils and British Crystal malt. Beachwood put kegs of The Dominator into local distribution, and it was all spoken for within a day.
7. Have no fear
“No matter how badass you think you are, every day, people will come into your place and ask for Bud Light,” Shrago says. “It happens everywhere.” The appropriate response, Shrago believes, is to treat that request as an opportunity to hook new craft beer drinkers. Beachwood keeps Foam Top, a Cream Ale, in heavy rotation to show that smaller styles can still be packed with flavor. Shrago brews his with a healthy charge of flaked corn, and hops it with German Magnum and Hallertau. Uno, a Belgian Single Ale, serves a similar function. “People who want something on the lighter side see they can get a lot more flavor than they would with a macro. They realize this craft beer thing isn’t something to be afraid of.”
8. Be a contrarian
Many brewers use rye malt to achieve a dry, spicy finish. Shrago uses it for another reason—he prefers rye to wheat or oats when he’s looking to add body and mouthfeel to a recipe. Kilgore Stout is a showcase for this contrarian take on the ingredient. The usual cast of characters (chocolate malts and roasted barley) make appearances in the recipe, but so does a 10-percent dose of German rye, adding creaminess to the body. Shrago hits his Saisons with up to a 25-percent rye addition for the same reason: The malt lets him keep his farmhouse beers bone-dry, without thinning them out.
9. Brew recklessly
Beachwood’s Reckless Session Ale was the result of an equipment malfunction that became a customer favorite. Early in Beachwood’s existence, Shrago was running around the brewhouse alone, brewing what was supposed to have been a Pale Ale. As he was sparging his grain, he wandered back to the grain mill and discovered 150 pounds of milled malt that got stuck and never made it into the mash tun. He changed the recipe on the fly, pulling back on the ketttle hops, dry hopping it heavily, and turning it into a fun, sessionable beer. “It was a happy accident,” Shrago says. “We’ll bring it back.” ■